Six Reasons Why I Love Poker
I love poker. I love being a woman who plays poker well (or at least passably). To clarify, by poker I mean No Limit Texas Hold ’em, which Momus and I might play occassionally. Sometimes cash games, sometimes tournaments. I win some, I lose more, but I almost always have fun. At times over the past few years, poker has been our primary form of entertainment. Those probably weren’t the healthiest times. We play less now, but Hold ’em has a permanent hold ‘on my heart. Here are the top six reasons why:
1) The rush. Hold ’em is a supercharged adrenaline rush of a game. Any game involving money hits that speed button for most people. A game where you can win $400 in 4.5 seconds? Priceless. Of course you can also lose $400 in 4.5 seconds, but let’s not focus on that.
2) Poker is like chess, only sexy. Texas Hold ’em is a game of extremely complicated strategy that requires intellectual effort, an ability to read other people and understand why they are taking a certain action, a knowledge of statistical odds, and a comfort with calculations (which sadly I completely lack). The beauty of Hold ’em is that you can learn how to play in just a few minutes, but it takes a lifetime to master. You’re always learning, and you have to keep your whole brain engaged to play well (or you will encounter that $400 loss at an unsustainable frequency). Some of the poker greats have been chess masters before they turned to Hold ’em. But they’re not showing the World Chess Championship on ESPN for 12 weeks every fall.
3) The seedy factor. As a suburban mom who does data analysis for a living, I love the instant thug cred of saying “I’m a poker player.” I love that feeling every time I sit down at a table that I’m doing something slightly illicit. Taking a walk on the dark side. Of course, all of my play actually happens in shiny casinos and brightly lit, officially sanctioned card rooms, so it’s largely a mirage. But I can still imagine myself as a sort of renegade mom with a secret life.
4) I love being a girl who plays poker. Women make up less than 10 percent of all poker players. Typically when I sit down to a table (either cash or tournament), I am the only woman at the table with a bunch of men. I have always been more comfortable in the company of men (I feel like Blanche Dubois now). Also, I’m a sports-loving, beer drinking woman who hates to shop and couldn’t care less what the Kardashians are up to. I would rather talk about the Celtics’ prospects this season, and the odds we land Kevin Love (now zero% for those playing at home) than what Beyonce has included in her coffee table book or where to find the best Uggs (see, I don’t even know what’s fashionable right now).
5) I love being the girl at the table. This is slightly different from the above. Women tend to be poor poker players; probably a combination of a lack of experience and less of a tendency towards aggression than men. I don’t want it to be true – and there are exceptions of course – but it’s what I have observed. I am better at the game than the average (female) bear. I love that men make certain assumptions about me and my play because I’m a woman that are dead wrong. It allows me to be more profitable. Also, there is no better feeling than that moment when I see the recognition in another player’s eyes “Shit, she really knows what she’s doing!” I get instant respect. No other activity in my life allows such immediate positive feedback. I think it’s even a bigger rush than winning the hand.
6) I get to be sociable with strangers and not have a panic attack. I have mentioned before that I have some mild social anxieties that keep me out of malls, crowds, and largely off telephones. Somehow the setup of poker doesn’t cause the fear to kick in. Maybe it’s something about the fact that you are dealing with a universe of only 8 or 9 other people at a given time. Typically no one knows each other, and you don’t have to say a single word if you don’t want to. Nonetheless it is a highly social experience and feeds that part of me that fantasizes about being an extrovert without actually having to engage with other human beings.
I’m all in!